Searching for ‘New Normal’

Normal (adj): conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. (google.com)

The sky, full and gray, has pushed down, threatening to touch the earth, each day this week. Everything is wet—the puddled pavement; the red, chenille strands that fall from certain trees and lay sodden and slippery on the sidewalk; the thin young robins, who run when they see me instead of flying.

It has not been the best walking week. But I think of my friend Wendy, that stalwart New England transplant, who says that weather is weather, whatever. She bought herself a waterproof case for her phone after drenching it too many times during rainy walks. She puts the cased phone in the pocket of a rain slicker and heads out anyway, water be damned.

I think of Wendy, and I walk anyway, too. Luckily, the early-early hours have offered, each morning, a sort of safe zone; if the rain doesn’t stop, it tamps way down. As long as my glasses aren’t obscured by rain, I huddle in my jacket and I walk.

And I notice the flowering trees and shrubs, which are, this year, magnificent. In our yard the rhododendrons, ancient bushes that seemed, the last few years, to be failing, have roared back into life. Maybe it was the mild winter; maybe all this rain encouraged blooms. Maybe it was Mark lopping deadwood last year.

Whatever: the bushes are loaded with beautiful magenta blooms, more blooms than ever before.

It’s not normal.

********************************

On Thursday morning, there’s a message on my phone: the books I requested online at the local library are ready to be picked up between 3 and 6 p.m. I get my schoolwork done; I eat lunch with the boyos; I vacuum and I work on this week’s shopping list. And finally, three o’clock arrives, and I head out to the library.

There’s only one other car in the south lot. Kim, one of our favorite library staff, waits, masked and gloved.

I show her my library card, bar code out, through the window.

She takes a picture and texts it to a colleague inside. Then she runs in to get my books.

While she is gone, I open the trunk, glad that the rain has tapered.

Kim comes back with five books in a sturdy plastic bag. She puts them in the trunk and backs off; I jump out and slam the lid shut. We wave and I pull out of the lot. I can’t wait to get home and sort through those books, decide which one to read first.

I haven’t been this excited about getting a library book since I was seven and could finally—finally! My local library made us wait FOREVER!—have my own library card and walk to the library myself, and make my own weekly choices.

This just isn’t normal, either.

********************************************

I look in the cupboards and the fridge and I realize I have everything I need to make a peanut butter pie, a little end of the week treat. And Jim has a request: could we have it, he asks, in a regular pie shell (a “flaky crust,” he calls it) instead of a graham cracker crust?

Why not? I say. Let’s see how it tastes. I have balls of pie dough in the freezer; I defrost one and roll it out, bake it golden brown in a small pie tin.

While it cools, I mix peanut butter and cream cheese with confectioner’s sugar and vanilla. When that is smooth and well-combined, I fold in whipped topping, stirring and stirring, until the mixture is velvety, rich, and fluffy.

I take my big rubber spatula, and I push the filling into the ‘flaky crust.’ I smooth it, spreading right to the edges.

I put a matching pie tin, upside down, over the top, and I wrap the whole thing with aluminum foil. And then I put the pie in the freezer, where it must reside for, the recipe says, “…at least three hours.”

Later that night, dinner cleared away, the house quietening after a busy day, we have peanut butter pie. We drizzle Hershey’s syrup onto dessert plates and cut thick wedges of pie to place on top. We drizzle a little Hershey’s on top, too.

I take mine to the table; Mark and Jim take theirs into the TV room.

No one speaks as forks dip and scrape and lift; then, “MMMMMMMMMMMMMMM,” Jim calls.

“GOOD,” echoes Mark, agreeing.

It IS good. It’s different with regular pie crust. It tastes wonderful, even though it sure isn’t what you’d call normal.

But then, this year, what is?

*********************************

I’ve told you this, I’m sure, that back in the day, when things were chaotic (as they often were), my mother would make promises. “We’ll go,” she might say, “when things get back to normal.”

She would count a beat, like a savvy comic, then add, deadpan: “Whatever THAT means.”

*********************************************

Because really, what IS normal? A friend in the mental health community maintains that “normal ain’t nothin’ but a setting on a dryer.” I long, in these COVID days, to get ‘back to normal,’ as if it’s a place I’ll return to.

And I know, deep in my knowing, that there is no going back.

********************************************

But even in calm, healthy, unmemorable times, the days are not really normal,–not same or typical or immutable. What’s normal is that things are, always, changing. We get things lined up just the way we want them, the job, the house, the family, the clothes, the car.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…we say. Just right.

And life is good.

But then…

The industry changes.

Enrollments fluctuate.

Technology morphs and things that were once essential become anachronisms.

And the job we loved just…vaporizes.

OR: we get the degree or the certification; or the company loves us and wants us to transfer to a bigger plant, to a more important position.

*****************************

Which means we’re moving, for joyful reasons or sad ones, so the house goes on the market.

But maybe this time, we’re going with one less person, because that beloved child is 21 and in her own apartment, happy in her own job, with her own friends…in her new normal. We’ll need one less bedroom in the new place.

And we’ve been so busy we lost weight; or we’ve been stress-eating and gained weight. The clothes don’t fit.

And when did the car get so old? With all this traveling, we might be better served to buy a hybrid anyway, or to get a truck so we can transport big stuff back and forth…

*****************************

Wait. What’s normal now?

*******************************

On Thursday, Jim gets two email messages about jobs. He forwards them to his job coach, who emails back: I don’t think these are requests for interviews. I think these are job offers.

Normal for Jim has become being at home, trying to keep busy, embarking on projects, trying not to think of what happened to his job hunt in COVID days.

And now…

He is excited. He walks a little straighter.

“I’d better get a haircut,” he says, and he looks ahead to a life that could be anything but the old normal.

***************************************

I get an unexpected job offer, too; it’s a chance to work with people I admire and respect, and an opportunity to do good work in the community.

“I’m going to need some grownup clothes,” I say to Mark, as if clothes are a measure of change. Like Jim, I am excited.

Life is changing in some ways that are good, even while we try to balance on the fulcrum between personal growth and a disease-ridden world.

****************************************

A friend texts about a young man she knows who had a car detailing business, which, in the pandemic, ground to a halt.

And then he thought to morph his work into a car sanitizing business. Now he’s busier, maybe, than he was before, having quite deliberately changed his normal.

********************************************

Meat prices sky rocket; gas prices stabilize. We talk about shrinking the meat we eat and growing the side dishes, the veggies, the soups and the casseroles.

I go three weeks without needing to pump gas.

Restaurants cautiously open, but none of us have any desire to eat out.

We order groceries online and set up a pick-up time. We’ll keep getting our groceries this way; we save money and we save time.

We shop at a locally owned meat market, and we mask up and go to the farmers’ market on Saturday morning.

Some things are missing from supermarket shelves, and I order them online. I get a brick of yeast. I get a gallon jug of vanilla extract. I get a three-pound tin of baking powder.

We used to hunt and gather one way. Now another is evolving, and we won’t be going back to normal. But the way we do things now will begin to seem normal.

Until they, too, have to change.

***********************************************

And through it all, we’ll remember this: people are sick. People have died. Lives and families and communities have been irrevocably changed.

************************************************

Joan Chittister writes in The Gift of Years, “It isn’t that the changes aren’t difficult. Of course they are. It’s only that, for my own sake, difficult as they may be, I cannot allow them to become terminal. Life goes on, and I must, too—but how?”

And she talks about styles of coping.

There are those who refuse to admit that any change has happened. They become angry and remote; they lose touch with a life that swirls on by.

There are those, writes Chittister, who allow that change has happened, but they are not happy. They function, but “…they begin to punish the world around them for the situation they’re in.” Everything that’s happened is somebody’s else’s grievous fault. “Their souls,” writes Chittister, “spoil in their shells.”

Other people may seem to move forward, but wherever they land just doesn’t measure up. Nothing is as good as the old days, and these folks keep looking for, and never finding, a way to return to their lives before.

And there are those, she writes, who embrace change, who respond to difficulties with what she calls “aplomb and courage.”

“They handle pain,” writes Chittister, “by replacing it with new joys.”

**************************

I am seeing, as our world visibly changes daily, all of these responses. I see all of those responses in other people. I see all of those responses in ME.

Normal is gone; normal will never come back. I have to build New Normal to replace it.

And I have to realize that as soon as New Normal is built, it begins to change, to evolve, and to decay.

I want to be the last kind of person, acknowledging the pain of loss, but brave enough to embrace new joys. I hope that I will do that most days, because I know this: normal is gone, and change is happening.

***********************************

I go walking in the morning, and the rhododendrons are even fuller and more beautiful than they were yesterday.

There must, I think, be hope.

11 thoughts on “Searching for ‘New Normal’

  1. Kim Allen

    Your Rhododendrons look beautiful! Your peanut butter pie sounds luscious. You thoughtfully point out that we are each writing our own page every day and have the freedom to make choices out of the norm, and make new discoveries along the way. The kind of evolving that happens when we listen to our own inner voices. And if we allow yourself to wonder. I am struck by how different things have been for animals around the world when they have not been hindered by people. I look forward to hearing about your new job! Thank you.

    1. Yes, I think about the animals, too–dolphins in Venice, for instance! I hope we don’t go right back to bad old ways…There’s no way this illness, and the tragedies it wrought (is still wringing), can be considered a good thing, but if we changed because of it, at least it won’t have been a meaningless thing…

  2. Susan C

    I love reading your blog💙 I bet that peanut butter pie was amazing!!! The way you described the new normal was so moving; it nearly brought tears to my eyes. This quote,

    “And I know, deep in my knowing, that there is no going back.“

    gave me chills. Is anything going to be normal ever again? That question is regularly thought of in my head. Never did I think we would ever have to go through something like this. Everything has changed and its kind of scary. Thank you for continuing to enlighten us with your thoughts 😊

    1. Susan, the pie was good! And I am convinced life will be, too. This IS a frightening time, but I hope it is unfolding into something new and rich and deep. Thank you for taking the time to make a wonderfully meaningful comment!

  3. Patty Roker

    Been vegetarian since 1979, a vegan since 2000. Anytime you need recipes in this new “normal”, whatever that is besides the setting on a dryer (LOVED that), just holler!

  4. I’m a nurse so familiar with the dryer saying. In my full time career I was an orthopedic operating room trauma nurse. Everyday changed from morning to afternoon, sometimes from one minute to the next. Unstable fracture and sick patient trumps ankle fracture. Change patients, set ups and beds. Give excellent patient care and teach at the same time…. It was exhausting but I loved the constant change.
    This change, and yes there is no return to normal after this, can define us in many ways as you noted. We can rise above it and learn, give, care and nuture. We can be the crugedon in the corner who whines all the time. We can embrace more meatless or find a rancher and farm gate our meat (that’s always how we get top quality meat). We can learn to let go of the longing once we have mourned for that easier time. We can adjust our reciepe for what’s in the pantry and save the trip to the store. Like the pie what we make might be outstanding. As always I look forward to how you frame your week and the world around you.

  5. Sue

    ~ much sage advice to absorb here, Pam…within your descriptive words as well as those of your thoughtful responders. Having felt quite ‘abnormal’ of late, along with so many others, this is all very much appreciated!
    In the astonishment of my redbud tree popping out in glorious deep pink color overnight, after experiencing ground-covering snowfall & subfreezing temps just over a week ago, I can attest to that ‘hope’ thing!!!

      1. Sue

        ~Yes…’poor man’s A/C’ (opened windows) here now also & just heard tomorrow’s local forecast: 90s! YIKEs!

      2. I love the house when fresh air wafts through….

        Nineties!!! Whoa!!!! It’s in the 80’s here and I have been whining already…time to clamp my moaning mouth shut!

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